Scientists from the University of Cambridge examined how coconut oil, olive oil, and butter affect heart health and body weight.
Foods contain a mixture of different fats. Unsaturated fats are considered “good” fats.
They’re sometimes listed as “monounsaturated” and “polyunsaturated” fat on Nutrition Facts labels.
These fats can promote health if eaten in the right amounts. You can find healthy unsaturated fats in fish, nuts, and most vegetable oils, including canola, corn, olive, and safflower oils.
The so-called “bad” fats are saturated fats and trans fats. They tend to be solid at room temperature.
Solid fats include butter, meat fats, stick margarine, shortening, and coconut and palm oils.
Previous research has found that high dietary saturated fat intake is linked to higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, a big risk factor for heart disease.
However, whether various dietary oils with different fatty acid profiles may have different metabolic health effects is still unclear.
In the current study, the team aimed to compare changes in cholesterol levels, weight, body fat, and metabolic health after healthy men and women consumed three different dietary fats, extra virgin coconut oil, butter, or extra virgin olive oil.
They tested 94 people aged 50-75 years. These people were assigned to consume extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or unsalted butter 50 g daily for 4 weeks, which they could incorporate into their usual diet or consume as a supplement.
The team found that the LDL cholesterol levels were strongly increased in butter compared with coconut oil and olive oil. But there was no difference in the change of LDL cholesterol in coconut oil compared with olive oil.
They also found coconut oil strongly increased HDL cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol) compared with butter or olive oil.
There was no difference in changes in weight, BMI, body fat, fasting blood sugar, or blood pressure among any of the three oil groups.
The team says that two different dietary fats (butter and coconut oil) which are predominantly saturated fats, seem to have different effects on cholesterol levels compared with olive oil, a predominantly monounsaturated fat.
Coconut oil is more comparable to olive oil with respect to LDL cholesterol.
This suggests that the effects of different dietary fats on cholesterol, metabolic health, and health outcomes may vary not just according to the general classification of their main component fatty acids as saturated or unsaturated but possibly according to different profiles in individual fatty acids.
For example, processing methods and the foods in which they are consumed or dietary patterns may be different for coconut oil and butter.
The researchers say that these findings do not change current dietary recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake in general.
However, they highlight the need for further research on the complex links between different dietary fats and health.
The research is published in BMJ Open and was conducted by Kay-Tee Khaw et al.
If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and calcium supplements could harm your heart health.
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